Jonathan Demme

Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in the film that deserved all 5 of its Academy Awards:  Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in the film that deserved all 5 of its Academy Awards: Silence of the Lambs (1991)

  • Born: 1944
  • Rank: 74
  • Score: 529.35
  • Awards: Oscar / DGA / BAFTA / NYFC / BSFC / NBR / CFC
  • Nominations: Oscar / DGA / BAFTA / GG
  • Feature Films: 15
  • Best: Silence of the Lambs
  • Worst: Crazy Mama

Top 5 Films:

  1. Silence of the Lambs – 1991
  2. Rachel Getting Married – 2008
  3. Something Wild – 1986
  4. Married to the Mob – 1988
  5. The Manchurian Candidate – 2004

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1986 – 8th – Something Wild
  • 1991 – 1st – Silence of the Lambs
  • 2008 – 5th – Rachel Getting Married

Like others on this list, Demme started out with low budget films working for Roger Corman. His first two films (Caged Heat and Crazy Mama) were fairly mediocre. But the next three were better and then in 1980 he made a film that would became an example of his trademark: Melvin and Howard. Melvin was well written (Oscar winning screenplay), but was a very odd comedy. And while Swing Shift was a bit more standard (and he made the Talking Heads documentary and the Spalding Gray monologue Swimming to Cambodia), Something Wild and Married to the Mob followed the Melvin idea – they were well written and very strange, but funny.

Then of course, everything changed and he went from being a director of odd comedies to a major director because of Silence of the Lambs. Silence was a runaway success on every level – it was a box office smash, was only the third film to win the 5 major Oscars and was the first time in 8 years the film with the best success among the critics awards had won Best Picture at the Oscars. And no, Demme lost no points on my scale for giving the longest, most rambling acceptance speech in Oscar history.

After that, Demme’s path was a bit different. He made Philadelphia, an “important” film at the time. He directed Springsteen vidoes. Made a Neil Young documentary. But in the next ten years after Philadelphia, he only made two films – Beloved and The Truth About Charlie, both underrated, but both underwhelming to audiences and critics.

Finally he returned to form with the remake of The Manchurian Candidate (again, underrated) and returning to critical success with last year’s brilliant Rachel Getting Married. His next two films are both music documentaries, but let’s hope he doesn’t make us wait too long for his next feature film.

The Silence of the Lambs – #1 film of 1991

Deleted scenes can be a truly wonderful thing. Sometimes they can add a little bit to the plot that made have seemed missing in the actual film. They can have amusing little outtakes. But watching the deleted scenes from Silence are like taking a class in film on editing. Because every scene was rightfully deleted. Silence is one of the best edited films of all-time and I never realized it until I watched the deleted scenes several years ago and realized, “hey, these were all rightfully left on the cutting room floor – the film is perfect without them.”

Watching it the other night, I was reminded yet again how brilliant the editing is. In the scene on the elevator, it moves forward so perfectly, from the elevator to the ambulance to the exterior of the ambulance, to Clarice’s roommate running down the hall, to Clarice herself.

And of course, while the editing is so perfect, that alone would not make it a great film. There is the script, Demme’s perfect direction, the sound, the fine, muted score, but most of all, there are the two of them, faced off against each other, separated at first by glass, then later able to touch for just a second, two very fine actors giving two of the greatest performances in the history of film.

There is no exaggeration in that statement. So much has been written already about Anthony Hopkins performance, his combination of Katharine Hepburn and Truman Capote, his gaze when the camera first settles on him that lets you know he already knew you were there. But Jodie Foster is the anchor of the film, with her accent, her mannerisms, her determination, even the moment where she finally lets it all go out by the car.

For a long time I didn’t have this as the best film of 1991. It was always in the top 5, but for a long while my #1 film of the year was The Fisher King, and there were times when I considered that Boyz N the Hood or JFK might be the best film of that year. But when I finally saw that DVD and saw those deleted scenes, that cemented it once and for all. This is the #1 film of 1991. And it deserved all 5 of those Oscars, without question.